PHNOM PENH: One of the top surviving leaders of Cambodia’s ruthless Khmer Rouge regime on Friday denied genocide charges and rejected the label of “murderer” in forceful closing remarks at a lengthy UN-backed trial.
The Khmer Rouge’s former head of state, 85-year-old Khieu Samphan, spoke angrily to the Phnom Penh chamber trying him and another senior leader, 90-year-old Nuon Chea, for the regime’s killing of ethnic Vietnamese and Muslim minorities, forced marriage and rape.
The men are the two most senior living members of the radical Maoist group that seized control of Cambodia in 1975 and carried out some of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.
Up to two million people are believed to have been killed by the time the Khmer Rouge was overthrown in 1979.
The pair were handed life sentences in 2014 after convictions over the forced evacuation of around two million Cambodians from Phnom Penh into rural labor camps and murders at one execution site.
But Khieu Samphan, who was one of the Khmer Rouge’s few public faces as its head of state, claims he was not part of the killing machine that exterminated nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s population from 1975-1979.
On Friday Khieu Samphan denied responsibility for the mass murders and other abuses against Cham Muslims and ethnic Vietnamese, which were described in chilling detail by more than 100 witnesses throughout the three-year trial.
“I didn’t know about these issues,” he said, adding that the “idea of Cambodian genocide” was invented by Vietnam.
At one point he made eye contact with witnesses who had described graphic accounts of Khmer Rouge cadres committing cannibalism, mass rape and holding killing competitions of the minority groups.
“I know that they really suffered. I also heard when they spoke to me sometimes referring to me as a murderer. . .But the term murderer, I categorically reject it,” he said.